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Lights vs lights - home made halogens vs AY-UP LEDs

I've always felt my home made lights were great - cheap, reliable, and bright. But when the time came for my wife to get some lights, I decided to go commercial. Why? I wanted them to be absolutely reliable, unlikely to ever require trailside repairs and lightweight. That's not to say my home made lights have been unreliable, they haven't, and they're so simple that if repairs are required, they're pretty easy. The trouble is, wives don't like even running the risk of having to fix lights, and if the lights are home made, they've got a handy target on which to vent their anger. Well, my wife doesn't, anyway, and I don't like taking the risk of being the target... ;^)

And I have to be honest, with SLA batteries, my lights are heavy.

I'd been thinking of trying to make some home made LED lights for myself, and when AY-UP released their sets - with two 2 x 3W Luxeon LED units for less than $400, I thought they might be good. A few people I know bought them and gave very positive reviews. I bit the bullet and bought my wife a kit. Price is a winner for home mades, but the AY-UP kit is comprehensive, and well priced for a commercial LED setup. AYUP have released a Cree LED upgrade - pix at end of review.

The kit contained:

  • 2 x small batteries
  • 1 x big battery
  • 2 x two 3W LED units
  • 1 x handlebar mount
  • 1 x helmet mount
  • zip ties
  • spare mounting rubbers
  • 1 x 240V charger
  • 1 x 12V car charger
  • 1 x wrist band
  • 2 x light unit pouches
  • 3 x battery pouches
  • 1 x neoprene storage roll
ay-up kit
the full kit


ay-up batteries
tiny, tiny batteries

The AY-UP batteries are small - that's a "Big Un" on the left, and one of the "Little Uns" on the right (removed from mounting pouches) - they're miniscule - my big battery is close in size to a brick, and weighs over 2.5 kgs. AY-UP's batteries weigh in at a massive 130 and 70 *grams*!!

AY-UP claims users will obtain three hours from the small battery, and SIX(!) hours from the big battery. I can only get around 2.5 - 3 hours tops from the SLA brick.

As far as battery size, weight and performance are concerned, AY-UP is a clear winner over my home mades. And that's an understatement.


The light head units are also tiny - and light weight (54 grams each). Each head unit has 2 x 3W Luxeon LEDs, and a beautiful finish. Homemade light heads are not much bigger if you buy 31mm globes (I use the 51mm variety) and the globes look a treat with the reflector sprayed black.

However, the AY-UPs probably edge ahead because each LED can be set at a different angle to customise your beam, and they really do have a professional finish.

ay-up light heads
no wonder they weigh nothing!


ay-ups on helmet
AY-UPs foreground, halogen background

In this photo, you can see my home made lights and my "smaller" battery (smaller than the brick, anyway) - they're obvious, but you'll have to look a bit more closely to see the AY-UPs. Small and neat. Again, a clear win to the AY-UPs - and look at that - the battery's light enough to stick on the helmet - no way I can do that with mine! I won't make any comment about my crappy mount - I stopped developing once I had something that worked, I reckon it would be possible to make a better mount than I did.

It's not looking too good for my mighty home made lights in this comparison!


But this is what you really want to see - how they work.

Shining on a concrete floor immediately in front of the helmets (which are sitting on the floor), the AY-UPs are much whiter (although they do have a bluish cast, which the photo emphasises), but the halogen looks stronger. I call this a win for home made, but to be fair, the home made is pumping out 20W. AY-UP manage their output with only 6W - less than 1/3 of the home mades. This is one reason they can get away with such small batteries - another is good quality Lithium ion polymer batteries.

ayup beam closeup
AY-UP left, halogen right


In this shot, both lights are shining on a white wall about 2.5-3m away. Again, you can see that the AY-UP is much whiter and bluer. You can also see that the AY-UP has a slightly wider spread - my home made is a 10 degree beam. The home made seems to have more strength in the centre, and I think this gives it a longer throw down the track - to me, the AY-UPs don't quite have the throw I'd like. I don't have a picture of this to show yet.

Again, I'm claiming a slight win for the home mades, but in tight singletrack, that long throw isn't needed, so there really isn't much in it.

ayup beam on wall
AY-UPs right, halogen left

In summary, I think it's a damn close run thing - but only for now. I believe my home mades offer slightly more light, and that the light throws further down the track than the AY-UPs, but as I suggest above, in tight singletrack, the AY-UPs would be more than adequate. The AY-UPs have a much better finish, and are ridiculously light for their output. At the rate LED technology is progressing, I expect that LED lights will soon surpass the acknowledged champions of bike lights, HIDs, let alone halogens. LEDs rarely break, they rarely wear out, they weigh next to nothing, and require little power for amazing outputs. It's all good.

Halogens will remain for some time, but will be the poor cousin cheap lights that serious night riders avoid. Because they're simple and easy to obtain, there'll still be a halogen niche market for home builders. In my opinion, halogens are about to go the way of the dinosaur - and I don't mean evolve into birds...

If you need any more proof of this change in the market, AY-UP have already released their next generation LED lights (Cree XRE LEDs instead of Luxeons), which they claim are twice as bright for the same run times. That kind of output should have manufacturers of expensive HIDs looking worriedly over their shoulders. And again, the word on the street is that the new ones are bloody good. There is a penalty - increased weight. Yep, the Cree AY-UP lightheads weigh in at 58 grams, all of four grams heavier than the Luxeons... Somehow, I don't think buyers will complain too loudly. If you're that much of a weight weenie, take a leak before you ride!

Taking advantage of AY-UP's discount offer for existing owners, I bit the bullet and upgraded. I added an extra lighthead and a helmet mount to the upgrade offer, and now we have two full sets - one Luxeon, one Cree. As we have two, I'm taking one of each models, and have added mounts on my helmet, roadie and mtb.

By $deity! I can only say "I'm impressed!". Check these comparison shots out!

All photos taken with a Canon A40 in program mode, ISO 100 and resolution of 1600 x 1200, "superfine". Light metering was set to evaluative. Shutter speed and f-stop must be automatic. Photos reduced to 500 x 375 at medium compression. No other manipulation has taken place. The same conditions applied for each light.

halogen light
halogen in my mainly dirt drive
12V 20W, 10 degree beam, halogen. A good, bright light, with good spread. Plenty of foreground light.
luxeon light
Luxeon in drive

2 x 3W, 9 degree beam Luxeon LED AY-UPs. a whiter light with a bluish tinge, quite good, but not as good as the halogen. Very little in theforeground.

cree light
Cree in drive

AY-UP 2 x 3W Cree LEDs, narrow (8 degree) beam. Very white, very bright. Much brighter than the Luxeons. Don't have the nice spread of the halogens. Intermediate and medium (25 degree) beams are available.

You should be able to see the trees in the background in this shot. While they don't have the spread or the foreground infill of the halogen, the Crees win on throw. Remember the AY-UPs have two individually adjustable (up and down only) LED lights, so a bit of adjustment would help with the spread, possibly at the expense of brightness - I didn't test this.


Shining on the same garage wall as in the Luxeon vs halogen shots above, we have the Luxeon on the left, Cree upper middle, and halogen right.

The most striking difference is colour. The halogen is a much yellower light than either LED, although I think it's brighter than the Luxeons. Remember though, we're comparing 20W for the halogen against each LED light's 2 x 3W (6W total). The halogen appears to have the best beam spread and the Cree is the brightest.


luxeon (left), cree (upper), halogen (right)
Luxeon , Cree, halogen


cree halogen luxeon
Cree, halogen Luxeon

Shining on a concrete floor, just in front of the helmets, which were sitting on the floor. In this photo, the halogen appears to have a brighter centre spot, but I think that's a limitation of my camera - I couldn't see it.

In use.

On the road, the narow Cree AY-UPs are amazing. Even using only one lighthead (2x3W) is great on road. The tar is very well lit by the white light of the LED, much better than any halogens I've ever had, and the headlights of all but a few passing cars seem pallidly yellow in comparison. I'm guessing the few cars with whiter lights were running HIDs. It will be interesting to see how they go in the rain on the road - I've always found that was the weakest aspect of halogens - they just didn't light up wet tar roads well enough for my myopic eyes.

Off road, it's a bit trickier. Initially, I tested two narrows, and found I didn't really like that set up off road. I kept thinking "you fool, why didn't you get the intermediate or or medium beam kits?". Then I tried the old Luxeons on my helmet and the narrow Cree on my bars. Better, but I still kept wishing for a slightly wider spread and more throw from the helmet lights. On a whim, I then went against my normal ideas and put the Luxeons on the bars, and the Cree on my helmet. I've always preferred the reverse with halogens - dimmest light on helmet, brightest on bars. On my local twisting singletrack test track, Cree on helmet and Luxeon on bars was a brilliant setup.

I've mounted the Luxeons under the bars rather than above, lowering their angle, and improving their shadow casting abilities. So now I have a good low shadow casting light, plus a nice strong beam to look ahead and around the next corner. The Crees are mounted high - shining well down the track rather than in closem, so I don't wash out those shadows that the Luxeons are giving me. Although I suspect the intermediate or medium beams would be better still, this arrangement is working very well for me. That said, if you're not planning on sticking to the tar, give serious thought to the wider beam patterns.

It was close before, but I think we now have a clear winner in the LED vs halogen battle. The king is dead, long live the king! An upstart 6W LED light is clearly outperforming the veteran 20W halogen. There's still a lot to be said for halogen - they're cheap, simple, and homemade is fun, but hey, with a bit more effort you could make your own LED lights, and still enjoy the homemade experience.

If you've had enough of the homemade experience, and now you want easy and professional, I heartily recommend the AY-UP Cree LED lights.


hIpPy productions
another fAt hIpPy production

Standard disclaimer:

Like all outdoor activities, mountain bike riding can result in serious or fatal injury. Track conditions may have changed since these reviews.
Don't ride beyond your ability. If you fall off it's your own fault.

Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, thoughts, comments, opinions etc expressed herein are mine, and should not be taken to represent anyone else.
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